Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Was the Collapse of his Theology the Main Reason for the Resignation of Benedict XVI?

by Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission

It is always risky to choose a theologian to be pope. He can turn his particular theology into the universal theology of the Church and impose it on the whole world. I suspect this has been the case with Benedict XVI, first as a Cardinal, appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (ex-Inquisition), and later, chosen as Pope. This was not legitimate and became the source of unjust condemnations. In effect, he condemned more than one hundred men and women theologians, for not being in tune with his theological reading of the Church and of the world. 

Reasons of health and feelings of impotence in the face of the gravity of the crisis in the Church led him to resign. But not only that. The text of his resignation speaks of the “diminution of vigor of the body and of the spirit” and of “his incapacity” to confront the questions that made the exercise of his mission difficult. Behind these words, I believe there hides the more profound reason for his resignation: the awareness of the collapse of his theology and of the failure of the model of Church he wanted to implement. An absolutist monarchy is not so absolute that it can overcome the inertia of the aged curial structures. 

The central theses of his theology were always problematic for the theological community. Three of them ended up being rebutted by the facts: the concept of the Church as a «small reconciled world»; that the City of Men only acquires value before God by going through the mediation of the City of God, and the famous «subsistit» that means: only in the Catholic Church does the true Church of Christ subsist, no other Churches can be called Churches. This narrow conception comes from a sharp intelligence that is hostage to itself, not having sufficient intrinsic strength or the necessary following to be implemented. Did Benedict recognize this collapse and coherently resign? There are reasons for this hypothesis. 

The Pontiff Emeritus found in Saint Augustine his teacher and inspiration. In fact, Augustine was the subject of personal conversations with him. From Saint Augustine he took his basic perspective, starting from his theory of original sin (transmitted by the sexual act of procreation). This causes all of humanity to be a «condemned mass». But inside humanity, God, through Christ, set up a saving cell, represented by the Church. The Church is «a small reconciled world» that carries the representation (Vertretung) of the rest of the lost humanity. It is not necessary for the Church to have many members. A few suffice, so long as they are pure and holy. Ratzinger incorporated this vision. He complemented it with the following reflection: the Church is made up of Christ and the twelve apostles. This is why she is apostolic. She is just this small group. This excludes the disciples, the women, and the masses that followed Jesus of Nazareth. To him, they do not count. They are reached by the representation (Vertretung) that «the small reconciled world» assumes. This eclesiastical model does not take into consideration the vast globalized world. Benedict wanted to make Europe into «the reconciled world» to again conquer humanity. He failed because no-one undertook this project, and it was even ridiculed. 

The second thesis is also taken from Saint Augustine and his reading of history: the confrontation between the City of God and the City of Men. In the City of God there is grace and salvation: she is the only path that leads to salvation. The City of Men is built by human effort. But, since it is already contaminated by humanism and her other values, it does not obtain salvation because it has not passed through the mediation of the City of God (the Church). This is why she is plagued by relativism. Consequently Cardinal Ratzinger harshly condemned the Theology of Liberation, because it sought liberation by the poor themselves, and made the poor the autonomous subjects of their own history. But since the Theology of Liberation was not created within the City of God and her cell, the Church, it is insufficient and vain. 

The third is a very personal interpretation that Benedict gives to Vatican Council II when talking of the Church of Christ. The first Counciliar draft said that the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ. The debates searching for ecumenism, changed is to subsists, to make room for other Christian Churches that, in their own way, also realize the Church of Christ. This interpretation, as maintained in my doctoral dissertation, earned an explicit condemnation from Cardinal Ratzinger in his famous document Dominus Jesus, (2000), where he affirms that subsists comes from «subsistence» that there can be only one, and it is found in the Catholic Church. The other «churches» present «solely» ecclesiastic elements. This «solely» is an arbitrary attachment he makes to the official text of the Council. Some notable theologians and I, myself, have shown that this essentialist reading does not exist in Latin. The meaning is always concrete: «to have body», «to objectively realize». This was the «sensus Patrum», the meaning of the Fathers of the Council. 

These three central theses have been refuted by the facts: inside the «small reconciled world» there are too many pedophiles, even among the Cardinals, and thieves of money from the Vatican Bank. The second, that the City of Men does not have saving gravity in front of God, is built on the error of limiting the action of the City of God solely to the realm of the Church. Within the City of Men the City of God is also found, not in the form of religious consciousness but in the form of ethics and humanitarian values. Vatican Cuncil II guaranteed autonomy to the terrestrial realities (another name for secularization) that have value independently of the Church. They are of value to God. The City of God (the Church) is realized by the explicit faith, by the celebration and by the sacraments. The City of Men is realized by ethics and politics. 

The third, that the Catholic Church is the unique and exclusive Church of Christ and, even worse, that outside of her there is no salvation, a medieval thesis resurrected by Cardinal Ratzinger, was simply ignored as offensive by other Churches. Instead of «outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation», in the discourse of popes and theologians was introduced, «the universal offer of salvation to all human beings and the world». 

I have a serious suspicion that this failure and the collapse of his theological structure took away his “necessary vigor of body and spirit” to the point, as he confesses, of “feeling incapable of exercising his ministry”. Captive to his own theology, he had no alternative other than to honestly resign. 

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

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